For a few years now I have been concerned with equal rights and inclusivity for LGBT people in the church. I was very happy to see the legalisation of same sex marriage in the UK in 2014 and since that time I have been actively interested in pursuing the acceptance of the LGBT community in churches, and the willingness of churches to register for same sex marriage and put right the prejudices that have been practiced for centuries.
I’ve spent most of my life as part of the Baptist church in the UK. For the most part a traditional denomination that holds quite conservative views on the matter. There are a small number of Baptist churches in the UK that have chosen to register their premises for same sex marriage, and a slightly larger number that would call themselves ‘inclusive’ in the sense that they welcome LGBT people as equal and active members of the church and embrace their sexuality as a natural and God-given part of their individuality.
It’s been hard work for me to be a part of the Baptist church with the views that I hold. In our own church there are some others who share my views, some who certainly don’t and a lot of people floating about in the middle somewhere. I’ve had a few disagreements with the leadership at the church over this issue and for the last few years have felt very uncomfortable there. I’ve wanted to leave on several occassions but have stuck around most of the time for the sake of friendships and because my wife didn’t want to move to a new church and start again.
On the subject of same sex marriage, the position of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in recent years could be summed up like this:
1. They hold to what they call a “Biblical Understanding” of marriage as a union between one man and one woman and call Baptists to live in the light of it.
2. As Baptist churches are governed by their individual church meeting and not by the Union itself, any Baptist church whose members vote in favour of registering the premises for same sex marriage is free to do so, with the understanding that the union itself holds to the principle as shown above.
3. Similarly any minister who wishes to do so, may carry out same sex marriage in accordance with the wishes of their church ‘where their conscience permits, without breach of disciplinary guidelines.’ (that is genuinely what they have published)
4. However, any Baptist minister who enters into a same sex marriage as a partner themselves will be deemed to subject to discipline as this is considered ‘conduct unbecoming for a minister’. If you want to see how seriously they take this, take a look at the list of other offences considered ‘unbecoming conduct’. You can find it on page 13 of the Ministerial Recognition Rules published in June 2015.
I have been hoping that in light of recent conversations at Baptist Assembly and taking into account the 2013 legislation that the Baptist church would begin to take a more progressive line. However a statement issued in March 2016 appears to negate any immediate hope of that.
The Council statement reaffirms the commitment to the “Biblical Position” as outlined previously. Whilst the tension of diversity of opinions is recognised the statement goes on to ‘humbly urge churches who are considering conducting same sex marriages to refrain from doing so out of mutual respect’.
I failed to see the humility in this statement, in fact I was furious when I read it. It seems to be a giant leap backwards rather than even a small step forwards. It is wrapped up in nicety but reading betwen the lines I can’t find any hope in it at all. The statement calls for affirming churches to act out of mutual respect, but no such respect is being shown to them in return.
It has left me wondering whether I can continue to be a part of the Baptist movement at all. In all good conscience, can I support an organisation that I believe is acting unjustly towards people who have historically been marginalised and have only recently started to achieve respect and equality. Surely we should be holding out a welcoming and inclusive hand to all.
I hope that I can stay at my local church and continue to be an advocate for equality, it’s difficult and I’m not someone who makes dramatic gestures or shouts his mouth off in the church meeting. I just hope to be a quiet and consistent voice for progress.